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Character of the French, the Spanish, and the Italian Languages

THERE is this difference between these three languages. The Italian owes much of its merit and its softness to its peculiar turn of phrase, and the manner in which it employs its diminutives: thus it expresses, with great felicity, the sentiments of Love. The Spanish draws all its nobleness, and its pomp, from gigantic expressions and hyperboles, of which no other language will admit. The French appears to hold a middle rank between these two languages: it can express with strength and vivacity, the language of reason, by representing things as they are; it is thus well calculated for the compositions of History, Controversy, Theology, and Philosophy. It seems, however, to be very unfortunate in its poetical productions: the French are hardly aware of it themselves; but there is no correct ear that has been accustomed to English versification, that can bear, with any degree of patience, its tiresome monotony. A French poet, who was as great an admirer of Latin verses as of wine, compares French versification to the drinking of water. Its satiric verse, however, has the preference.

The Italian, of all the European languages, after the French, is the most general in use. The facility with which it is acquired, is one great cause of its universality. Yet it must be remarked, that if it is attained in some tolerable degree with so much ease, it is, indeed, difficult to grow conversant with all its delicacies, or to write or speak it to perfection. Those who wish to be informed of the best authors who have written in this language, should consult the “Reggionamento della Eloquenza Italiana,” of the Abbé Fontanini, corrected and illustrated by the Notes of Apostolo Zeno, printed in two volumes, quarto, at Venice, 1753. A work, that bears for its title “The Italian Library; containing an Account of the Lives and Works of the most valuable Authors of Italy, by Giuseppe Baretti,” printed for Millar, 1757—is very useful for one who wishes to recognize the numerous authors who have written in this polite language, at least by their names. The criticisms are amusive and bold, in the manner of Baretti; whose pages, it must be confessed, whatever might be his errors as a man, or as an author, seldom were found to weary the reader.